Written by Julie Higginbotham, Senior Case Coordinator, Mecklenburg County CDSA
Well, we were a bit out of the loop after having to cancel the February Table Talk Wednesday event due to bad weather, but we were able to jump right back in to talk about common myths related to coaching interactions with families in early intervention. As always, we had some new folks join in with our regular friendly faces for this discussion. Lead by Elizabeth Sweet, Speech-Language Pathologist, and Lisa Cloninger, Unit Supervisor at the CDSA, the group set out to do a little mythbusting to clarify some of the aspects of coaching in early intervention. And away we go….
- Myth #1, You Can’t Touch the Child – OK, so no one should be surprised that this was the first topic to come up, and rightfully so! Some reported still feeling hesitant about making comments/suggestions and touching the child during visits with families, and Elizabeth commented that the pendulum keeps swinging on this one. Folks are trying to figure out when it’s appropriate to give information and model strategies for a family – while we want to be asking questions to get the information we need, there comes a time when we do provide additional information and clarification for families so they know what to do when we aren’t there. From a service coordinator’s standpoint, we can support providers by talking about the process with families to encourage them to brainstorm and speak up during visits to make the most of the provider’s time.
- Myth #2, Modeling is Straightforward – This was another good one because modeling sounds simple enough – showing the family what they can do when we’re not there. We decided, though, that we wanted to do more “intentional modeling” with the family present, engaged, and actively learning to support their routines. When thinking about when we might intentionally model, the group came up with this list:
- When we’re talking about specific positioning
- When checking in with parents to see how they best learn
- After asking parents to show you what they’ve been doing first
- After asking permission to show the family something that might be helpful
One person summed it up beautifully – parents need to be involved with a specific role during visits, even if your hands are on the child.
- Myth #3, You’re the Only One Who Feels Awkward – I was a particular fan of this conversation because we know that we all stumble before we get good at doing new things in our work. The group decided that asking permission to share information isn’t always the smoothest question to ask because we wonder if parents are thinking, “Well, isn’t that why you’re here?!?” We can feel a little self-conscious, and people thought that it would be helpful to have some other ways to ask those questions while developing their own styles. Here were some suggestions…
- “Show me what you’re doing,” which may be followed with, “What do you think isn’t working?” This helps get the info that can lead into the “May I share a few thoughts?” if the family doesn’t come up with it first.
- “I heard you say_____ – can we talk about that some more?” This is a good one to get the family thinking about what they mean and what they already know so you know when to come in with your “I have some ideas that might help, if you’d like to hear them” to get to some more specific strategies.
If you realize that you’re sharing information, but you haven’t asked the family questions about what they think first, it’s OK to stop yourself and start over. Telling the family that you’re trying out something new that will only make your work better is not a bad thing!
- Myth #4, It’s Always Good to Show a Family What to Do – Sometimes, there’s more risk than benefit in modeling because it doesn’t always increase the confidence and competence in parents and caregivers. Here are some times when modeling may not be the way to go…
- “Hopeful modeling,” or times that we’re doing all of the intervention and hoping that the parent learned what they can be doing
- When we’re feeling proud about our own successes in helping a child do something new
- When we hear a parent say, “Oh, I can never get him to do that…”
Now, hear me say that, even with the best coaching practices, these things may still happen once or twice. If you step back and look at how you’re interacting with families, whenever they can have that first with their children instead of you, that’s the time that you should be feeling the most proud.
- Myth #5, Coaching Only Works with Some Families – This was another one I liked because I feel like this comes up fairly regularly. I do think that there’s weight in starting with new families or families that may seem easier to take on new practices, but there are certainly ways to coach every family we see. For starters, IFSP teams can encourage each other and figure out the best ways to coach specific families that you’re all supporting together. Like I mentioned before, you can even tell the family that you’ve learned more about early intervention best practices, and you’d like to try out a few things with them. Last, be thinking about specific families that you find to be more challenging – there could be some opportunities for growing that relationship or making sure that everything you discuss during visits is truly feasible for the family to do when you’re not there.
- Myth #6, We’re Professionals, We Hold Each Other to a Different Standard – This was another of my favorites because it brought it all back to the fact that we’re in this together. Truly – whether we’re talking about going to trainings together, meeting for these Table Talk Wednesday events, or working together on IFSP teams, we are all trying to do the right thing by children and families. When we get to see each other during visits, the point isn’t to try to monitor each other or out-coach each other, but we do want to feel safe enough to provide each other with positive and constructive feedback. We afford families the courtesy of a learning curve, and we should do the same for each other – being more flexible with each other means we can depend on each other to improve our practices.
As always, challenge each other and yourselves to do something new in your work. Pick one thing and be vulnerable – you’ll get so much out of it! And seriously, you guys – I have even more notes than this, and we only meet for an hour! Don’t you think that it would be a good idea to come and see what this is all about? I can’t describe the change in the dynamic of this group since we started doing these in 2013 – you really are missing out on an opportunity to make connections that will benefit you for days, even if you never get to work with these folks out in the field. Stay tuned for the Recap from yesterday’s Table Talk Wednesday event where we talked about the service delivery page and Who’s Gonna Do What…..and When?